Blue Collar

What is a 'Blue Collar'

A blue collar is a working-class person historically defined by hourly rates of pay and manual labor. A blue collar worker refers to the fact that most manual laborers at the turn of the century wore blue shirts, which could hold a little dirt around the collar without standing out.

This working class stands in contrast to white collar workers, which historically have had the higher-paying, salaried positions to go with their clean and pressed white shirts.

BREAKING DOWN 'Blue Collar'

Classifying workers by the color of their shirts dates back to the early twentieth century when employees either worked in an office or worked outside. Blue collar workers were known to carry out manual jobs that required a great deal of physical labor. These laborers usually had trade occupations and could work in all types of conditions from hot to frigid temperatures. At the time, blue collar workers preferred to wear darker colors and it was not unusual to see them wearing boiler suits, chambray shirts, overalls, and jeans all in the color blue. Great examples of typical blue collar personnel in the 1920s include coal miners, masons, bricklayers, boilermakers, welders, etc. These jobs typically did not require the worker to have any college degree or expertise in the slated job field.

Today, the term ‘blue collar’ has evolved as it is common to find workers in this role who are formally educated, skilled, and highly paid. Although blue collared work still entails maintaining or building something as in the areas of road construction, plumbing, welding, ironmaking, bricklaying, carpentry, etc., advancements in technology have seen more blue collared workers in industries such as aeronautics, film making, oil & gas, etc. As of 2017, blue collar jobs, although may not require a college degree, some may require highly skilled personnel with a license or certificate from an apprenticeship program or trade school.

Not all blue collar occupations pay less than white collar jobs. Workers in some trades fields earn more annually than white collar counterparts. For example, nuclear technicians, elevator installers, and subway operators earn about $60,000 to $70,000 per year, which is higher than what the average college graduate earns after graduation. Since most blue collar jobs pay by the hour, working overtime could mean that a blue collar worker can earn six figures in any given year. Some blue collar jobs also pay by the project or follow a salary scheme.

Other types of colored collar categories of workers include white collar, pink collar, green collar, gold and grey collar. A white collar worker typically works in an office setting and is paid a salary for his or her work. This type of worker usually requires a college diploma or degree and must have at least basic computer skills. The term ‘white collar’ is attributed to the fact that early office workers wore white shirts to the office, and could also afford to launder the shirts frequently.

Unlike white and blue collars, the other categories of colors are not derived from the workers wearing any particular color of shirts. Green collar workers refer to employees in conservation and sustainability sectors. Pink collars are women who work as nurses, receptionists, or elementary school teachers. Gold collars are found in specialized fields of law and medicine. Grey collars refer to engineers who are typically white collar but perform blue collar tasks regularly as part of their jobs.

The rate of college attendance in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the past 100 years, democratizing the education level once reserved for only wealthy families. Blue collar work does not typically carry a negative connotation in the United States, and has in fact been a source of multi-generational pride for millions, especially in the geographic northeast, where most of country's heavy industry first developed over 150 years ago.